– Summary –
Director : McG
Cast : Christian Bale, Sam Worthington, Anton Yelchin, Bryce Dallas-Howard, Moon Bloodgood, Common, Helena Bonham Carter, Roland Kickinger, Michael Ironside, Terry Crews, Jadagrace Berry.
Year Of Release : 2009
Length : 120 Minutes
Synopsis: John Conner now leads the resistance in the post-Judgement Day future, trying to locate his young father Kyle Reese, as well as fighting the unstoppable machine forces unleash by Skynet, the self aware system responsible for the recent holocaust.
Review : Charlie’s Angels director McG takes us into the future for the first Terminator film set after Judgement Day, which occurred in the final moments of the third film. Filled with amazing action sequences and effects, as well as a reasonably moving story for new franchise character Marcus Wright, Salvation is a massive return to form for the franchise after the lacklustre Rise Of The Machines.
Now in it’s fourth entry on film, the Terminator franchise just keeps coming back. To coin a phrase. Like it’s unkillable antagonist stars, the Terminator series has endure the sequelisation of it’s initial concept by remaining fresh and interesting for viewers, mainly due to the brain-busting time travel concepts and the logic concerns that involves. With Terminator Salvation, the franchise goes in a new direction completely, by showing us John Conner, the lead character in film 3, Rise of The Machines, in his post nuclear holocaust leadership role which was predetermined right from the first film. Darker, more gritty and earthy than it’s predecessors, Salvation gives us the definitive look at just how humanity has survived (or rather, existed) in the dawn of nuclear winter.
We find start the film in the our present (2003 to be exact), as convicted murderer (and death row prisoner) Marcus Wright signs paperwork effectively giving his soon to be dead body over to a scientist from Cyberdyne Systems Corporation. As Marcus is given a (rather slow acting) lethal injection, we cut to the film’s real present (our future), in which John Conner (Christian Bale) attempts to infiltrate a machine base with a squad, before all but him are killed when the machines retaliate. The resulting explosion re-animated the body of Marcus Wright, and he step out into a landscape he doesn’t recognise. While Conner is attempting to stonewall the Resistance Leadership group from attaching Skynet headquarters in San Francisco, Marcus makes his way to Los Angeles where he meets up with one Kyle Reese (Anton Yelchin), who he hopes can help him in his mysterious search. Marcus wants to get back to San Francisco himself, although he appears unaware that Skynet has control of the city and is using it as a place to send their human prisoners as a slave workforce.
Christian Bale plays John Conner exactly as he should be played in this instance; he’s now an angry, desolate individual resigned to the fact that he’s going to become a leader of men and the saviour of mankind. Bales ability to convey such raw emotion and undercurrent of anger is again on show here, his John Conner is not perfect (he makes some bad calls at times) but gets by with sheer intimidation and chutzpah. Connor has his mothers audio recordings, a set of cassette tapes filled with all of Sarah Connor’s thoughts and information before her death. Original Terminator star Linda Hamilton voices the tapes in an uncredited role. These help John fight the machines, and provide a little information that can help the humans in the war.
Aussie actor Sam Worthington, who also recently starred in James Cameron’s Avatar, plays Marcus, a newcomer to the Terminator franchise, and a key component in the humans war on the machines. Marcus’ conflicted personality towards his human brethren is a great arc to follow as he makes his way towards San Francisco in an attempt to fulfil his mission. This secret mission involves a large twist at the films conclusion, so I can’t reveal too much without giving the game away to folks yet to see this film, but let’s just say that if you have an idea of what’s going on about half way through, you may well be wrong. Worthington, whom I do not consider to be a great “actor”, and more a cinema figure akin to Van Damme or Arnie himself, plays the role of the surly Marcus really well. He cuts a fine action-hero figure throughout the film.
Anton Yelchin, who recently appeared as Chekov in JJ Abrams Star Trek, plays the young Kyle Reese (John Connor’s biological father) as a heroic Resistance fighter in Los Angeles, whose destiny is to meet John Connor and become friends. How this occurs forms the crux of the films narrative: eventually, both John Connor and Kyle Reese will meet, and Connor will send his friend back to the past to meet his own mother and stop the first Terminator (as told in the original Terminator film). Still, at the time frame Salvation is told, the machines have yet to develop the technology to travel through time, it would seem, making that event a little way into the future. Yelchin is quite good, although I do think a little understated, as Reese.
McG has given us a genuinely great, exciting, epic, Terminator film. While the previous film entries in the franchise tended towards the intimate story of Sarah and John Conner throughout, the scale of those films was less widescreen humanity and more character driven arcs. Here, there’s less character development and a substantial bulking up of the action. Having to cross cut three story-lines throughout, McG manages to hold things together well, providing some sensational action moments, while occasionally lowering the bombast for some less satisfactory emotional beats. Marcus is such a new character, and has to share too much time with other characters, that we don’t get as much a connection with him as I’d have liked. His scenes with Blair (Moon Bloodgood, as a sexy female resistance fighter who encounters Marcus in the desert…) are a little trite, somewhat forced, although McG doesn’t dwell on them much, so I guess they can be overlooked as a pause between action. And why the scriptwriters thought it was necessary to have Connor’s wife involved, as well as being pregnant, without actually utilising this fact anywhere in the film, is staggeringly bizarre. A major character has a relationship with somebody that doesn’t even rate so much as a single line of dialogue to develop? Very strange. Perhaps they’re saving it for the next movie?
But where Salvation really gets it’s audience going is it’s fantastic action sequences. A massive chase along a highway involving trucks, motor bikes and giant robotic machines (appearing for all the world like a darker transformer movie) is perhaps the highlight of the film, an explosive set-piece that grabs your attention and doesn’t let go. The final battle between Connor and a T800 (the Arnie Terminator) in Skynet’s manufacturing facility is equally well done, although some obtuse logic points tend to overshadow the moment. Such as, why, if you’re in the very heart of the Skynet facility, does the system only activate 1 Terminator to battle the intruders. There’s hundreds of the machines hanging from hooks ready to go, and only one of them is turned on? Not sure how that works, but there you have it. The effects involved here are all first rate, a seamless blending of the digital and the actual. The old adage of film-making being the art of making the audience unaware of what’s real and what’s fake comes to mind, since it’s impossible to tell which shots feature CGI and which don’t.
If there’s anything to criticise, it’s the lack of characterisation in John Conner, mainly due to the script, which seems intent on having Bale act like an obsessed psychopath the entire film. I think I felt more of an emotional connection to Marcus Wright (which, if you watch the film, is quite an ironic statement to make!) than I did to the character who’s supposed to be the key to the entire franchise. And I suppose I can see why anger may be levelled at the film-makers for that, considering the expectation of the new film. Christian Bale barely makes a dent into this film, although I will admit that when he is on screen, it’s a powerful presence. I think McG tried to get too many deeply flawed humans into the story, and it’s too much for him to handle. And why McG felt the need to write in Moon Bloodgood’s character at all is questionable. Her role is barely second tier, yet she receives a great deal of screen-time for very little emotional resolution at the end. Still, she’s pretty to look at, and I guess that keeps somebody happy.
Terminator Salvation takes James Cameron’s original concept and ramps it into the next level, albeit without a continuation of the significant character development the franchise has always tried to undertake. McG directs the action sequences of Salvation wonderfully, although he does fall over a little in the more character driven moments; a lot of that I could put down to some script issues and logic problems. Still, as a film, Salvation does what it sets out to do: entertain and keep the series alive. The setup for yet another sequel is done, now all we have to do is see who, if anybody, is willing to take on the challenge. Salvation is a fine action/sci-fi film, a welcome return of a franchise that until now looked out on it’s feet.